Sunday | March 1, 2015

Don't stop the progress

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2013
PortMiami is already readying for expansion of the Panama Canal with work on its wharves in preparation for deepening the channel to accompany post-Panamax ships. But as the clock ticks before the expansion completion, Jamaica is still not ready to take full advantage.

McDonald, Guest Columnist

The Goat Islands/Portland Bright issue has been in the spotlight since China proposed a massive infusion of capital to port development. There have also been ongoing email campaigns that have suddenly surfaced, lobbying against this project.

It is well recognised that social tension will always exist between the demands of social development and the requirements of modernisation.

However, I believe that there has been an oversimplification of this issue - to focus purely on how wicked it would be to destroy our beauty spots and kill some fish. Will there be a major ecological disaster, as the naysayers claim, or will this project develop without major environmental impact and, over the long run, help to boost national capital formation?

A major challenge faced by the countries emerging from colonialism is the inability to boost national investment. Usually, sources of national capital formation have been foreign investment that have generated great returns to the investor without promoting a balanced development of the countries where foreign capital has made their domain.

Over the last 50 years, despite its naysayers, China promoted a change in its investment, opening possibilities for economic growth. After a long process of retooling, China has emerged as a banker of first and last resort to the whole world.

Chinese capital is promoting growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many large corporations in Europe and America have turned to China for a bailout. Quite interestingly, at the height of the recent financial crisis, many European leaders rushed, hat in hand, to beg China to save their lives.

Why then should Jamaica, as a country still gripped by social, economic, and cultural backwardness, not seek development assistance which can accelerate the process of industrialisation and, by this rule, the increase in national capital-cum-investment stock?

Meanwhile, it seems so ironic that we are getting environmental lessons from individuals whose inner psychosis is driven by a pathological belief in the free-market system. It is not so much that free-market economy is bad, per se, but unbridled capitalism (and its supporters) has no love for the environment or environmental regulation.

To use just one example - the Western love of caviar has decimated sturgeon. How ironic it is that the lessons of environmentalism are being promoted by the values of social demagogues who advocate free-market policies which decimate the environment?

It's not a pretty picture that in countries such as Bangladesh, Western consumerism's abuse of environmental regulations, with thousands of unsafe sweat-shop garment factories, have led to the deaths of thousands of workers as these unsafe factories periodically collapse. In Mexico, the Maquilladores developed in the border areas without regard for environmental safety.

We do not even have to go too far to find that modern manufacturing, based upon privatisation and deregulation, sees factory inspection as hindrances to free-market business climate. How can individuals in Jamaica or America keep a straight face and speak about the environment to people whose livelihood has been tied to the land?


It is
because of the backward economic development polices, based upon
deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation, promoted by the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, why there is so much
challenge faced by developing countries to promote harmonious

Rural farm life, in countries such as
ours, has been destroyed by economic polices that seek to

up cheap labour, at the expense of rural agricultural development. It
behoves us, therefore, to see how we can accelerate Jamaica's industrial
development to help to keep some of the anger of the urban youth in

It is fortuitous, therefore, that a programme
of modernisation has emerged which can create a feedback effect on other
sectors of the economy. Who knows if in the next few years we may not
be able to pay off the IMF and say bye-bye?

This being
said, is it really necessary to remind the dear readers that one cannot
separate love for the environment from the love for our fellow humans?
But as strange as it seems, we humans tend to forget to love our
neighbours as ourselves and so we wage wars based upon differences or
religion, race, and political creed.

History is
replete with many brutal examples of the wars that have devastated the
environment and brought ruin and tears to families, including little
children. Why then do we pretend that we can love fish, love turtles,
love our pets and nature and yet we can't love each other? Why is it
that only when it is convenient that we love our environment, but may
well contribute to dirty gullies, beaches and public


This Goat
Islands/Portland Bright project teases our environmental consciousness
like Jesus picking someone's corn on the Sabbath because He was hungry.
However, the urgency to boost national job creation suggests that in the
risk-reward trade-off we have more to lose if we reject this

Given policy implications, environmental
consciousness cannot be used, as a matter of convenience, to hold back
economic development. To do this is to run the risk of using the
environment as a matter of convenience, that is to say, the environment
is remembered like to the poor on Sunday when we go to church.
Therefore, it is because of the risk-reward that concerns this issue why
all well-thinking persons ought to support this

There are other serious policy implications
which ought to be carefully weighed in any discussion of this

First, after 500 years of colonialism and 50
years of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank policies, there has
been more devastation to our national environment than these policies
can engender. For example, the type of pauperism promoted by the
IMF/World Bank has contributed to massive deforestation in the
developing nations as poor people, who cannot afford fuel, cut and burn
wood to either use for fuel or, to burn coal and

And to clarify, the issue is not that they have
already destroyed the environment, 'so it's OK to finish the job'. The
fundamental issue is that if Jamaica can accelerate the process of
industrialisation, as a concomitant effect, capital can be generated to
rehabilitate national fishery, the rest of our coastline, and

Second, there is the issue of the economic
imperatives and the possibility that there may well be others who may
not be pleased that we are charting our own independent course. For
example, I find it strange that a major US organisation, CHANGE.ORG,
that has stayed silent on many issues that affect the well-being of the
Jamaican urban poor, the rural poor and the middle classes is weighing
in on this issue.

Indeed, it is very surprising that
an online petition is being circulated by CHANGE.ORG on the issue of
Goat Islands and Portland Bright. (See:
Among the issues referenced are the

"There is a situation brewing in
Jamaica where China wants to build a massive shipping port. The
Government already set aside the Portland Bight Protected Area, the Goat
Islands, area and surrounding waters for endangered species. The
Jamaican Government did an about-face now the area is being considered
for development of this port."

This email came from
one Hansen von Shneir of CHANGE.ORG, and there is no way to ascertain
its motive and veracity. Let us, however, set aside any pejoratives, and
assume, for purpose of argument, that the writer is well-thinking. It
is great that CHANGE.ORG, a very well-known progressive organisation, is
focusing its resources on little Jamaica. It would be nice, though, if
they could organise a petition to get the IMF to ease their stranglehold
over our small farmers, workers and middle class'

Let's face it. There are many overriding
economic policy issues that would justify a challenge to these
do-gooders. For example, there are several United States ports,
including the Port of Miami, that are rapidly expanding to take
advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the US$40-billion
Interoceanic canal proposed by the Chinese in

The widening and dredging from the
modernisation of the Panama Canal is a direct manifestation of the
increased demand of shipping and port services. Why then should Jamaica
not throw itself into the mix to benefit from this new phenomenon of

This project is in the interest of
Jamaica's industrial development. Therefore, any objection must include
an alternative source of development capital which can help to lift
Jamaica out of the ravages of poverty and degradation which are
long-lasting legacies left by slavery and

Norris McDonald is an economic
journalist. Email feedback to and